These days we’re hearing a lot about privilege.
The word privilege showed up in English in the 1200s. It came through Old French from the Latin term privus legis, private law — a law applying to or giving favor to one individual — a law that by design did not apply equally to everyone. The term was used in France to apply to a privileged class that was exempt from taxes.
Peggy McIntosh, a Wellesley scholar who spent years studying the darker side of privilege found this way to help root out her own privileged thinking:
I asked myself, on a daily basis, what do I have that I didn’t earn? It was like a prayer.
Over the years, other wise women have had things to say about privilege:
No privileged order ever did see the wrongs of its own victims.
-Elizabeth Cady Stanton
Privilege is the greatest enemy of right.
Marie von Ebner-Eschenbach
It is natural anywhere that people might like their own kind, but it is not necessarily natural that their fondness for for their own kind should lead them to the subjection of whole groups of other people not like them.
-Pearl S. Buck
Privilege, almost by definition, requires that someone else pay the price for its enjoyment.
I’ll close off with a tribute to the spelling mnemonic method of Mrs. Fern Byrne of Capistrano Elementary School. To remember how to spell privilege, just remember that within it is a four-letter word starting with v.
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My thanks go out to this week’s sources, Etymonline.com, The New Beacon Book of Quotations by Women. Washington Post, Merriam-Webster.com, Wordnik, Collins Dictionary, & the OED.
I write for teens & tweens, bake bread, play music, and ponder the wonder of words in a foggy little town on California's central coast.
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